You've heard it before. You're about to hear it again. God works in mysterious ways. Two ways: through the towel dispenser in a restaurant bathroom and through the message inside a Chinese fortune cookie.
That's the setup in Memphian Geoffrey Wood's latest novel, The God Cookie (WaterBrook Press), which opens with a heated discussion about the morality of stealing a restaurant saltshaker.
The scene is inside Mr. Wu's Imperial Buffet. At the table are Parrish, the owner of a coffee shop, and two of his employees, who are likable enough but just this side of useless as workers. All these guys are in their mid-20s, and all of them are hopped up on caffeine. But only one of them, Parrish, gets the gift of revelation when the paper towels in the men's bathroom at Mr. Wu's comes up empty. Then there's the message in a fortune cookie, which Parrish takes to be a sign from the Almighty. The directive: TAKE THE CORNER.
Parrish, who's done some real thinking on the voice of God, does — the corner across the street from his coffee shop, where he meets a nurse who keeps her head in a book and an older lady bent on knitting. What happens?
Parrish picks up a letter off the street. What it contains is troubling, and what Parrish does throughout the rest of The God Cookie — in a series of extraordinarily charitable (and comic) efforts — is try to find the author of that letter. A next to miraculous task? Not in a narrative as well-meaning as this one. Caution, though, to readers who enjoyed Wood's debut novel, Leaper: Here you'll be suspending your disbelief to the breaking point.
"I have no artistic training. I have no religious training. I have spent huge chunks of my life not listening to God. Yet, I wrote a book on a new physical type of prayer that asks God to come near while you make crosses from broken and found objects. You know what they say about God's mysterious ways."
That's Memphian Ellen Morris Prewitt, and she's referring to her how-to guide Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete Press), a book that came out last spring, but it's based on an idea that began, practically to the day, eight years ago.
It was September 11, 2001, and in response to the tragedy of 9/11, Prewitt gathered up various found objects and items of personal significance and attached them, without much thought, to a framework in the shape of a cross.
Prewitt had already been going through her own trying times and she'd been toying for a while with the possibilities of found objects glued onto simple frames, but the cross carried with it its own religious import. It also introduced Prewitt to a surprising source of religious meditation. She came to think of those crosses she made as a form of prayer — a physical form of prayer that was both self-expressive and interactive, with Prewitt doing the asking ("What am I supposed to do with all these things?") and God doing the answering.
These days, Prewitt is introducing others to cross-making in workshops conducted throughout Memphis, but for two decades she made her living as a lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi. After moving to Memphis, her focus turned to writing fiction and nonfiction, which paid off in Prewitt twice winning honorable mentions in Memphis magazine's fiction contest.
But if Prewitt's crosses were inspired, it was another book by another Memphian — Sybil MacBeth's Praying in Color — that inspired the "Active Prayer Series" published by Paraclete. Making Crosses is part of that series, which views prayer as a form of doing. Through doing comes understanding — of self and possibly of God and his mysterious ways.
But understand this: Prewitt's community of cross-makers are not affiliated with any church or denomination. Instead, the community supports members' efforts to draw nearer to God — the materials: castoffs of little to no value, recycled into unexpected, meaningful ways. Prewitt calls it "sustainability theology."
Interested in trying your hand at making your own cross?
On September 13th, Prewitt will be holding a workshop at First Unity Church, 9228 Walnut Grove, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their own keepsakes and found objects. The cost of the workshop is $25. To register, call the church at 753-1463 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on Ellen Morris Prewitt and Making Crosses, go to makingcrosses.com.